In 1982, Arukkani, a village girl with a colourful ribbon tied to the end of her plaited hair, charmed Tamil Nadu. Her endearing innocence, rustic ways of life and spirited efforts to fit into the city, made her one of the most memorable movie characters of the time.
Portrayed by actor Suhasini Maniratnam in the 1982 film Gopurangal Saivathillai, Arukkani became synonymous with the coming-of-age trope: that single plait curving upwards towards the ribbon-clad end has ever since been an iconic symbol; a defining factor of the movie itself.
This is not the first time a film has been defined by a single character, frame or element. If Gopurangal Saivathillai has Arukkani, K Balachander’s 1985 film Sindhu Bhairavi, has a frame in which the string of a tambura snaps; the very tambura that symbolically brings the two protagonists (JKB and Sindhu) together. Such lone elements, set against a global genre like pop art, are what evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia in designer and artist Gopi Prasannaa’s movie posters.
His poster for Gopurangal Saivathillai, features Arukkani’s single plait set against a ribbon-like pop palette background, predominantly composed of reds, greens and purple.
The artist, who has been in the field of design for more than 20 years, has worked on the posters of many notable mainstream movies, including Master, 96 and OK Kanmani. He is now working on a series of retro movie posters as part of his lockdown project. Sadma, 16 Vayathinile, Mullum Malarum, Mouna Raagam, Antha 7 Naatkal are a few of the movies that feature in the 10-part series, aptly titled ‘Ninaivugalai Thedi’ (which roughly translates to ‘chasing memories’).
Down memory lane
“I was wrapping up close to 20 to 25 movies before the lockdown; running round the clock. I used to work for 18 to 20 hours a day. But, when the lockdown started, I was suddenly hit by a void,” says Gopi. This void made him revisit what he had been wanting to do for a long time: create posters for films of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which are close to his heart.
These are movies that Gopi had grown up watching and many of them still remain favourites. In fact, he says Salangai Oli was the first movie he watched in a theatre. He was six years old then. “The movie is about a talented dancer who never makes it in life. It portrays the journey of an artiste. And as an artist myself, the character of Balakrishnan resonates with me even today,” says Gopi.
The poster for Salangai Oli was the seed of the entire series. With his signature, minimal style, the artist has depicted elements that, at one glance, speak volumes about each film. For example, his Sadma poster sports a simple, pen-sketch of a man kneeling by a railway line. The name of the movie is written in free hand, yet has characteristics of a type that reflects the time it was set in (1983).
Similarly, the poster for Raaja Paarvai has a backstory that Gopi holds dear: “I watch Raja Paarvai at least twice a year. It’s a journey back in time. I had done one poster for the movie, almost eight years back. Kamal (Hassan) sir had seen it and told me stories about the movie and the time.” This was a moment worth cherishing, he recalls. However, this poster is not part of the series — but the experience is something that inspired him to make many more.
Dotted in time
The colour palette, treatment and typography used in his posters are from the late 1970s to early 1980s. However, the types used were created by Gopi for this series, inspired by design elements he saw around him. “There is this unexplored format that magazines of that period used. If you look at them closely, you will realise the pictures are heavily dotted. It is called the halftone pattern,” says Gopi, in reference to his poster of Antha 7 Naatkal.
“While making posters, the artists need to think beyond what they want. It all depends on how the audience can connect,” adds Gopi. He explains how the logo should define the personality of the movie. Once the logo is cracked, the layout is worked on and colour is added. When one rewatches a movie, the defining moment can easily be culled out.
“These 10 posters for me were like making art. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating something of the past, using the tools of 2020,” says Gopi. He admits that this has been a personal journey: with the creation process taking him back in time, and jogging memories.
The series can be viewed on his Instagram account, @gopiprasannaa